Responses to World Bank on Footover BridgesThe World Bank says that in order to improve air quality and safe mobility in Dhaka, one needed measure is more footover (pedestrian) bridges. On a recent visit, the World Bank explained to us that in addition to building 70 km of footpaths, an initiative for which we congratulate them, they are also building a number of footover bridges. When pedestrians cross the street they slow down cars, which makes the cars pollute more, they told us. Also, since there is little or no enforcement at zebra crossings and intersections, the only safe way to allow people to cross the street is through the use of the bridges.
They explained that the project began many years ago when the World Bank had not yet spelled out a policy on universally accessible design, and in any case, with virtually no other facilities for people with disabilities in Dhaka, why not spend money building new infrastructure that is also inaccessible? They also mentioned that the directors of one hospital had requested a footover bridge because of staff being hurt or killed crossing the street. (Apparently the patients visiting that hospital are sufficiently strong and healthy to make use of the bridge. Or maybe since they’re already sick, it’s OK if they get run over.)
When we pointed out that they seemed to be saying that pedestrians are an obstacle to cars, they explained that pedestrians also slow down other traffic on the street, including buses. But they hastened to assure us that they had not said that pedestrians are the reason that buses move so slowly.
They further commented on the limited amount of road space in Dhaka, at about 7% whereas they feel that over twice that is the minimum necessary. When we commented that in a situation of limited road space, one should discourage, rather than encourage, the most space-inefficient means (the private car) they dropped that topic.
Throughout the conversation, one thing was clear: the World Bank officials only regard motorized trips as trips. They are trapped in car-based thinking. They consider all non-motorized forms as unimportant and, worse, an obstacle to all those important trips that are occurring with the use of fuel. Further, since fuel-burning vehicles pollute, they suggested that non-motorized transport including walking causes pollution by slowing down the otherwise smoothly moving motorized transport.
That cars are the main reason that cars and buses are stuck in traffic does not appear to have occurred to them, nor did they seem aware of the abundant work that has been done in the past few decades on environmentally-friendly and people-focused transport policies to replace the old car-based ideas.
We can only imagine two possible explanations for the World Bank’s refusal to acknowledge a more people-focused and environmentally-friendly approach to transport: either they are unbelievably ignorant that such possibilities exist, or their real interest is in selling cars and car-based infrastructure.
The Bank officials also mentioned that they are not in a position to tell the government what to do; rather, they must respond to the government’s request. Which is fine up to a point. But obviously funders have policies about what they will and will not fund. Under a Clean Air and Sustainable Environment initiative, they obviously could agree to fund footpaths and refuse to fund footover bridges. Conversations with officials at the World Health Organization and the Asian Development Bank have also made clear that while they cannot dictate what governments do, they do have significant scope to engage in persuasion to adopt (or not) more enlightened approaches. Finally, the holder of the purse strings is obviously not without influence on the recipient.
The Bank officials also said that they must listen to different perspectives and that there are different views on this matter. We could not agree more. There are people who have worked for years on transport and urban planning issues and who have done research on successful and failed policies in cities around the world. There are people who simply approach the issue with blind prejudice that the car is the only means of transport. There are people who care about the environment, about safety, about access for those with disabilities (special needs), and about the poor, and there are people who only care about selling cars. We personally do not feel that all opinions should be accorded equal value.And now to have a little fun with what they said…
According to the World Bank: Cars pollute. Cars main and kill. Let’s treat cars as the kings of the road!
According to the World Bank: There is not enough road space in Dhaka, so let’s prioritize the most inefficient users, the car, while making life difficult for the more efficient users, including pedestrians, bicycles, and rickshaws.
According to the World Bank: People in cars are making trips. People on foot are creating obstacles.
According to the World Bank: Enforcement of road rules in Dhaka is poor. It is obviously impossible to improve enforcement, so let’s just reward those causing the problem and punish the victims. (More simply put: Drivers behave badly, so let’s punish pedestrians.)
According to the World Bank: We must listen to different sides and then ensure that those being hurt are kept safe. Let’s say we had a problem with sexual harassment (eve teasing) on the streets. We will invite men and women to discuss the problem, in order to involve different stakeholders. The women complain that they can’t move about the city without being subjected to rude remarks. The men say that they are just being men. Hmm…it is difficult to make men behave and respect women. Hmm…ah, I know! Let’s ban women from moving about the city!!
According to the World Bank: Simple logic works. For example: cars pollute; pedestrians slow cars; pedestrians pollute. This is akin to saying that tobacco creates jobs; we need jobs; so let’s promote tobacco use. Just because a few statements seem to lead to a logical conclusion does not mean that those statements are in fact logical!
According to the World Bank: It is difficult to create universally accessible design in Dhaka so let’s start by adding more infrastructure that is obviously not accessible!
According to the World Bank: The long term is far away so let’s forget about it and focus on the short term.
According to the World Bank logic: If the thief is breaking your windows, hand him a key to the door.
According to the World Bank: Cars do not stop at intersections. Cars do not have to stop to allow other cars to go. Too many cars in limited road space does not create congestion. The main obstacle to the smooth movement of cars is pedestrians.
According to the World Bank: If you’re only traveling a short distance and doing it without the use of fuel, you may as well just stay home and make space for all those important people moving about while using fuel, e.g. creating pollution, congestion, and danger for everyone else.
According to the World Bank: Pedestrians should not be on any road that is arbitrarily labelled a highway, but it is OK for cars to enter the narrow lanes of Dhaka even if that causes a long line of rickshaws to become stuck in traffic.According to the World Bank logic: If people surrendered their wallets to thieves, then thieves wouldn’t need to carry a gun. So victims of crime make thieves dangerous. (While this is possibly true, it is obviously utterly irrelevant!)
According to the World Bank logic: If small kids can’t play on the playground because a big bully keeps beating them up, and if you’ve repeatedly asked the bully to stop but he has ignored you, then you should tell the children to stop playing there…and declare the problem solved.
And a final suggestion: If the real objective of your project is to promote the smooth movement of cars in Dhaka, then change the name of the project to “Promotion of Cars for a Polluted, Congested, & Unsafe Dhaka (PCPCUD).” After all, if you accept, or worse, promote the idea that facilitating the movement of cars is good for safety and the environment, you are damaging not only the situation in the present, but for many years to come. This may be news for you, but whether on foot, bicycle, rickshaw, or by motorized means, a trip is a trip. The main difference is that some non-motorized modes do not pollute, do not hurt or kill others, are good for the environment, and require little road space, in direct contrast to motorized transport and especially to the car. Treating the car as the king of the road will simply encourage more people to drive and thus make all the problems caused by the car worse, not better.